The Truth About How Love Happens

"I knew I loved him the first time I saw him," she said, a goofy, dreamy smile on her face, the kind of smile you'd only see on someone who's experienced a real, tangible kind of love. "I said, 'I'm gonna marry that guy.'"

And marry that guy, she did. And then I came along.

Now a senior in college, I've experienced my fair dose of different loves. And in retrospect, I can appreciate every one. There was the first love -- the turbulent, frenzied love that was bound to break. A 15-year-old can understand love, no doubt, but to possess the mindset to make it last is rare and nearly impossible. There is such a thing as "too young," and 15 is simply too young to think about forever. But I don't regret it for an instant.

A couple of other loves came along. There was the love that, in the end, was really only a friendship love. There was the college love, so unfamiliar and new and exciting (no curfew; no open-door rules!). And all of these loves were diverse and special, but none were meant to conclude my dating life, and deep down, I always knew it.

But 17 days ago, my world turned completely upside down.

He lives across the country, but was visiting his hometown -- right next to mine -- for a little over two weeks. He was beautiful, he was special, he was indescribable. Yes, I cry candidly when Jack dies at the end of Titanic (and if that was a spoiler, I apologize; however, you're 17 years behind the rest of the world), but after several failed romances, I'm also cynical, skeptical, distrusting. And somehow, he broke it all.

In these past two weeks, I learned that chivalry is not dead. Every door (including car!) was opened for me; every date was followed by a walk to my porch and a gracious goodbye; every compliment was sincere and genuine, lacking even a hint of eroticism. We took walks in the park and held hands; we sat under a tree on a farm and just talked.

He loves people, wildlife, the whole world itself. He'd tell me I'm beautiful, but the way he said it was different. He'd stare at me with a wonderful expression in his eyes, and I'd blush and look away. He made every effort to be together, and he instilled in me an extraordinary sense of security -- a type of safety I had never previously felt. Yet, he made my pulse race; he lifted me up and brought me to a place I barely knew existed. And it all felt like a dream.

Yesterday evening, he left to catch an early flight that was set to depart the next morning. "This isn't goodbye," he said, and I believe him.

A few hours later, surrounded by family at a post-Fourth celebration, my dad sat next to me, rocking gently in a chair, an uncharacteristically pensive expression on his face. And then he turned to me. "A guy like him can be worth waiting for," he said.

The truth about love is that it can happen at any moment. It can happen right away, like it did for my mother. It can happen in five years, six months. Or it can happen in just two weeks. It's not the amount of time that counts; love itself is timeless. It's the feeling in your gut, the special sense, that thing where you just know. And yesterday night, I walked up to my mom, the woman who understood it upon first glance. "I love him," I said. She said she knew.